Glauber's (and Cinema Novo's) last film: the dying words of a revolutionary Third World artist
"This film is a portrait of Brazil and of myself", stated director Glauber Rocha about his final film "A Idade da Terra", in an interview shortly before his sudden death in 1981, at 42, of pneumonia. "Idade..." is his grand epitaph: here you'll find the best and worst of Glauber's exuberant, allegoric, compulsive, revolutionary, verbose, ambitious and very individual style. There is no story-line: it's a collage of long scenes (mostly improvised) with the purpose of "reinventing Brazilian cinematic art, in the same way Villa-Lobos did with Brazilian music, Portinari and Di Cavalcanti did with Brazilian painting". Some have called it an "anti-symphony", where cinematic "noise" and "cacophony" would be part of a revolutionary artistic style. He was outraged by the fact that mainstream cinema still followed 19th-century literary paradigms (the predominance of dialog, narrative and plot over formal experiments) and wanted the movies to "finally enter the 20th century", to be as ground- breaking as the modernist painting movements. Glauber's original project for "Idade..." included having the 16 reels of the film being presented at random order, at the discretion of each projectionist in each movie session, never actually put into practice (the copy we see in VHS today is in the same order he screened at the Venice Film Festival).
"Idade..." had a long troubled genesis, as it began in 1978 and was only finalized two years later. Glauber was at the time a walking paradox: he was Brazil's most prestigious filmmaker on an international level, admired by Bertolucci, Godard and Buñuel; he had revolutionized Brazilian cinema at 24 y.old with his 2nd feature "Deus e o Diabo na Terra do Sol" (1964) becoming the leader of the Brazilian New Wave ("Cinema Novo"), creating a whole new aesthetics for third- world cinema, consolidated in his famous manifesto "Estética da Fome" (The Hunger Aesthetics). He had won two big prizes at Cannes (best director in 1969 for "Antonio das Mortes", and the Jury Prize for his 1977 iconoclast short "Di Cavalcanti"). And yet, by 1978 he was completely broke: he couldn't get financing, as his films were highly controversial and commercially unsuccessful. By then, he was in the habit of verbally attacking film critics and powerful media corporations, which didn't help matters. He was also living a private hell, as he -- a militant leftist -- was shunned by a league of important artists and intellectuals for expressing "sympathy" for the military regime in a 1975 controversial interview, as well as for hailing the new Pope (John Paul II), and was thought to be mentally disturbed. Still, he managed to raise enough money to buy a good amount of film stock and began shooting frantically with a shoe-string budget (he filmed a total of 36 hours, which he reluctantly reduced to the final version of 140 minutes).
Urgency is the key word here: it's as if he prophetically sensed this would be his last film. Glauber points his intellectual machine-gun at a multitude of themes: capitalism, militarism, imperialism, revolutionarism, Marxism, racism, sexism, religion and religious myths, pollution, the bourgeoisie, politicians, etc. Visually, the film has tints of cinéma-vérité (in the crowd scenes), expressionism (the 15-minute opening sequence representing the massacre of native indigenous peoples) and cubism (in some sequences, ALL the takes are included one after the other). Glauber's idea of acting was measured in decibels: not only the actors shout all the time, but he himself yells directions off-screen at the actors with his booming voice ("Fala mais alto, Danuza!!!").
"Idade " is one of the last films to "believe" in avant-garde, experimental, uncompromising art films (as opposed to the omnipresent sense of commercialism we witness today, even from beginning filmmakers). It's from the days when films with political statements and philosophical discussions were welcome and relevant, when intellectual complexity was a plus and not "boring stuff". "Idade..." doesn't strive to be coherent, logical, accessible, entertaining: Glauber wants to provoke bewilderment and discomfort and he certainly succeeds. It's a film of excesses: it's overlong, overly repetitive, overly digressive. It's a loud film from a loud man who didn't believe in subtlety. Glauber didn't even bother to write down his voice-over comments in "Idade...": he goes on and on ad libbing, thinking out loud in messianic speeches that are alternately lucid and maddeningly over the top. His famous inability to be succinct both in films and real life pays a price in his last film and it's no wonder that, by the end of the movie, we feel exhausted.
This is a film for audiences not afraid of experimentalism and controversy -- it's mandatory viewing for all interested in Glauber Rocha and as perhaps the last breath of Brazilian "Cinema Novo" movement. DO NOT watch this if you like conventional story-telling, clarity and subtlety. For the curious, open-minded, patient viewer, trust me: you've never seen a film quite like this.
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